Interior Department Moves Forward on Offshore Renewable Energy

November 7, 2007

The U.S. Department of Interior released its Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for alternative energy and other alternative uses of the outer continental shelf (OCS) on November 6th. The Interior Department's Minerals Management Service (MMS) has regulatory oversight for any renewable energy developments on the OCS, and the final programmatic EIS examines the potential environmental effects of alternative uses on the OCS over the next 5 to 7 years—including offshore wind power and wave and tidal energy projects—and identifies policies and best management practices that may be adopted to address those potential effects. It also assesses potential impacts from development, operation, and decommissioning of renewable energy facilities and identifies key issues and mitigation measures that should be considered by subsequent site-specific reviews. The EIS will support the establishment of an MMS program that provides for the efficient and orderly development of renewable energy projects on the OCS. The MMS plans to issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for the program in the spring of 2008. See the OCS Alternative Energy and Alternative Use Programmatic EIS Information Center.

To allow developers of offshore renewable energy projects to make some progress before the MMS program is established, the MMS is also proposing to establish an interim policy that provides for offshore energy resource assessment and technology testing activities. Under this interim policy, the MMS may issue limited-term leases for such activities, subject to compliance with relevant federal statutes. Developers requesting such leases must also obtain necessary approvals for the construction and placement of associated structures on the OCS lease area. The MMS warns that the leases will confer no priority rights to subsequently develop a renewable energy facility on the OCS. The MMS will accept public comments on the interim policy until January 7th and will also accept project nominations during this time period. MMS is also developing a lease form to be issued for public comment at a later date. See the MMS press release and the official notices on the Final Programmatic EIS and the proposed interim policy as published in yesterday's Federal Register.